Bring on a lockout: NHL labor talks die

Posted: Friday, September 10, 2004

The NHL and the players' association appeared headed toward a lockout when talks broke off Thursday after the union's first new proposal in nearly a year.

As promised, the NHLPA offered a system that didn't include the salary-cap structure it said the league is demanding. The proposal was emphatically rejected by owners during a four-hour session in Toronto.

That left Ted Saskin, the NHLPA's senior director, resigned to the fact that a lockout was likely to be imposed by owners when the current collective bargaining agreement expires next Wednesday.

''It certainly looks that way,'' Saskin said. ''By making their one issue the one thing we won't talk about, it appears clear their intention.''

Not since negotiating began last Oct. 1 had the union put forth a new plan. But with time running short following 20 hours of sidestepping discussions of specific team management, the union proposed a system built around a luxury tax and revenue sharing.

The plan included a 5 percent rollback on current contracts, an idea that was in the union's original plan in October and one it says will create $100 million in savings.

Also in the package was a luxury tax framework that would target the spending of specific teams, and a revenue-sharing system that differed from the players' association initial proposal but was more closely aligned to recent NHL offers.

Players also put forth changes to the entry level system they say will generate $60 million in savings to clubs.

But Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer, claimed the proposal was merely ''window dressing.''

Daly said that not only didn't it address the problems facing the 30 NHL clubs, it wasn't even as good as the offer made by players in October.

''We don't feel today it was anything other than a pre-orchestrated move to not make a meaningful proposal,'' Daly said. ''They believe their best deal will be negotiated in a work stoppage situation and that's unfortunate for our sport.''

Saskin said owners want the lockout because that is the only way they have a chance of getting a salary cap.

Now, no new talks are scheduled, which almost assures that training camps won't open on time this month.

''It is clear the owners remain stuck at trying to get a salary cap,'' said Vancouver center Trevor Linden, the president of the players' executive committee. ''At some point the owners need to understand the players will never accept a salary cap or any system arbitrarily linking payroll to league revenues.

''Our proposal was the best chance we saw to save the hockey season.''

It is likely that the season will officially be put in peril next week when the NHL Board of Governors meet in New York.

This lockout could prove worse than the one that lasted 103 days and cut the 1994-95 season nearly in half. Owners have been preparing for that possibility the last several years and have built a $300 million war chest.

This latest fruitless negotiating session included more representatives from both sides for the first time since October.

In addition to NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow, Saskin and Linden, the rest of the union's executive committee including players Bob Boughner, Vincent Damphousse, Trent Klatt and Arturs Irbe were present.

Daniel Alfredsson and Bill Guerin, also committee members, weren't at the meeting because they are still playing in the World Cup of Hockey, a tournament that is a joint venture between the NHL and the players' association.

It concludes Tuesday night in Toronto, and that appears to be the last hockey involving NHL players that fans will see for some time.

Daly was joined by commissioner Gary Bettman, and executive committee members including Calgary Flames part owner Harley Hotchkiss, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, Nashville Predators owner Craig Leopold, Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, Minnesota Wild chairman Bob Naegele, and New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello.

Saskin said Bettman concluded the meeting by saying ''we weren't even talking the same language.''

In previous sessions this summer, the NHL proposed six concepts it is convinced would solve the league's woes. The NHLPA rejected them all because it says each contained a salary cap.

The union says of the $224 million NHL teams claimed to have lost last year, $170 million was concentrated on just six teams.

The NHLPA says those losses were not CBA related and doesn't feel players should have to fix problems that mostly result from market issues and bad arena situations.

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